The role that gamekeepers and farmers can play in the conservation of breeding waders has been recognised in a new study by the British Trust for Ornithology.

A new report by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has emphasised the key role that gamekeepers on grouse moors can play in the conservation of upland waders.

The report highlights a pilot project in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which has been trialling methods for involving keepers and farmers in surveying breeding waders and monitoring the hatching success of their nests.

High densities of breeding curlew, golden plover, lapwing, redshank and snipe were reported in the upland project area, which covered moorland and farmland.

In total, 34 nests were monitored with cameras and temperature recorders, put in place to ascertain egg hatching or failure, and six out of every 10 nests hatched chicks. Of the 13 nests that failed, 10 were predated, mainly by sheep, hedgehogs and badgers, or trampled by livestock, with just one nest falling victim to crows.

Working together

The survey asked keepers at the Bolton Castle estate to monitor breeding waders during the course of their work. The routine work of the keepers was found to be very similar to that of independent BTO staff.

David Jarrett, who led on the project for the BTO, said: “This demonstrates the considerable potential of working with different stakeholders to monitor our threatened breeding wader populations.

Gamekeepers interested in carrying out breeding wader surveys may be able to generate data comparable to that of experienced fieldworkers if good guidance and training is made available. Projects around the UK, which are seeking to monitor breeding waders, could benefit both from these piloted survey methods and from the provision of guidance to allow a wide range of stakeholders to contribute to survey work.”

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Citizen scientists

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, welcomed the findings: “This report is hugely encouraging. It clearly states gamekeepers can be enthusiastic and accurate ‘citizen scientists’ in gathering information on breeding waders.

It is also very heartening to see the reputation of grouse moors as strongholds for a wide range of waders is underpinned by the findings of this report.

“Other research has found that in moorland areas where there are gamekeepers controlling generalist predators such as foxes, crows and stoats there are up to five times as many waders, which have a three times better chance of fledging their chicks.”